Thursday, July 5, 2012

What is the Church For?

I am away this week at Cana Colony, and am re-posting good old posts from when I first started this blog and didn't have many readers. Hope you enjoy them, and I'll be back for real on Saturday or Sunday.

In the writings of the Fathers, the one and only Church precedes creation… here the Fathers are continuing a theme of rabbinic theology by which the Torah and Israel had been conceived of as being preexistent: creation was then conceived as a sphere for the exercise of God’s will; this will, however, was held to need a people who might live for God’s will and make it into the light of the world. Since the Fathers were fully persuaded that Israel and the Church were ultimately identical, they could not regard the Church as something that came into being at a late hour, by chance, but recognized in this gathering of the nations under the will of God the inner goal of creation.

Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith, 134

Reflection – “I don’t mean to be offensive, but I’m not really married to the Church.” So said one of the lay students who shared several of my theology classes in the seminary. At the time, as is usual with me, I was too dumbfounded to do anything but stare blankly at her (if you ever find me staring blankly at you, it’s not really a good sign…).

Ten minutes after she left the room, I said out loud, “Well, Jesus is married to the Church.” And that seemed to me to be an effective, if not especially timely, rejoinder.

In this quote from Ratzinger, however, my rather summary defense of the Church is put into a broader and richer field of meaning. What is creation for? What is the world for? What is humanity for? There are all sorts of opinions, of course, including the current favorites, “Nothing!” or “Whatever you want them to be for!”

We say that creation is for the Church. This may seem ‘wrong’ somehow, or even offensive (what about all the people who aren’t Catholic or Christian – did they miss the boat?). But we see that God is working out a plan, a goal, a deep and beautiful unfolding of what he has made… and that this unfolding is the gathering of all men and women, all nations and people, into a single body, a single family, what in Madonna House we call a Sobornost.

And this gathering together is not only of all human beings. It is of all human beings united, in a way that we have a hard time finding adequate words for, with God. And that this gathering together takes up the whole of creation into itself – the material signs used in the sacraments, the artifacts of brick, wood, stone, metal, glass that hold the invisible mystery of this divine unfolding, the situation of this mystery, this Church, in time and space and history. That this unfolding of God’s intent is not an abstraction or an idea or merely some future hope, but is a existing reality, situated in the messy here-and-now situation of sinful, foolish humanity.

The Church is not an afterthought or an extra or (God forbid!) a problem to be dealt with or overcome. It is the very heart and center of God’s creative will.
I am married to the Church.

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